Defense was Warriors' psychological weapon, and they've misplaced it

Defense was Warriors' psychological weapon, and they've misplaced it

It’s the obvious answer to the question nobody wants to ask, because as is true in all sports debates, once the answer is provided, the debate dies.

Put simply, the Warriors have downgraded themselves to a good but flawed team, the current equal to seemingly lesser lights like Denver and Oklahoma City and Toronto and Milwaukee, all because the thing that made them extraordinary was their devotion to and capability for defense.

But not just defense, where their obvious slippage has been seen both visually and metrically, but defense as a psychological weapon.

They used to be the team that owned scoreboards in the most compelling way – point differential. They made the game hard for opponents to play to the point where spirits were sapped and wills broken by the end of the third quarter on a routine basis, and conveniently, points flowed the other way from that defense.

Now? They are not just a middle-of-the-pack defensive team overall (20th in points allowed per 100 possessions, 13th in effective field goal percentage allowed, 17th in overall defensive rating, 25th in turnovers forced, etc.), but they get run out of the building an awful lot. They have lost five games by more than 20 points, four of those at home (where they are otherwise 15-0). The only teams that have been beaten more decisively more often this year are Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Orlando, Phoenix and San Antonio – by winning percentage, teams 14 (the Spurs), 24 (the Magic), 27, 28, 29 and 30 (does it matter?).

Steve Kerr called it "slippage" back in the day. It seems like it's more than that now.

Oh, there are reasons for all of it. The center position is easily bullied no matter who plays it, a far cry from the Bogut/McGee/Pachulia era of punishment exacted, the roster is getting older by the odometer; Draymond Green is not 100 percent; Klay Thompson’s mind is drifting toward his season-long shooting struggles; the bench in general is thinner and less Swiss-army-knife-ish . . . whether these are entirely accurate or not, they are all pieces of a more confusing puzzle, one in which they don’t just “turn it on and off at will,” but “get into lousy habits that become easier and easier to revert back to at inopportune times.”

The Lakers loss could have been of those statement games the Warriors used to excel at, but they had no statement to make. LeBron James popped his groin muscle in the third quarter with the Lakers up 71-57, the Warriors cut the lead to two in five minutes and THEN got outscored by 24 in the final 14 and change.

Of course, the wild cards are always played at this point in any discussion. Wait until DeMarcus Cousins can go (February at the soonest, most likely). Wait until Thompson finally becomes the Thompson of old. Green will be 100 percent soon. Durant, Curry, Iguodala, blah blah blah-de-blah blah. The same old stories told the same old ways, and usually to convincing effect come playoff time.

But defense is supposed to carry you in the lean moments of a game, or of a season, and the Warriors are more content to try to win games with the best-defense-is-a-good-offense philosophy that has almost never worked in NBA history, for the simple reason that the best defense is actually a good defense. The Warriors can defend; only Jonas Jerebko of the rotation players is a typically minus-defender. They have three rings that prove it.

But for now, they are getting much less of that at a time when they need it most. Not because their record is worrisome – they won a championship with 58 wins last year – but because they’ve forgotten/devalued the benefits of psychological terror that comes with crushing crushable teams – like, say, the James-less Lakers.

And until they relocate that, probably by becoming more difficult at the far end of the gym until their offense is reassembled, they will have games like Tuesday’s, ones that only embolden opponents into thinking that the Warriors can be had, right now, as they are.

And opponents are always much easier to defeat when they don’t think they can defeat you.

Watch Steph Curry try to freestyle rap at his charity golf tournament


Watch Steph Curry try to freestyle rap at his charity golf tournament

Stephen Curry makes playing basketball look easy, but the same cannot be said about his rapping. 

The Warriors star grabbed the microphone at the Stephen Curry Charity Classic at TPC Harding Park on Monday, and freestyled ... well, something. 

"I don't know where this ball's going, and I'm sure not good at flowing," Curry rapped. 

The former line is self-deprecation, considering Curry's handicap. The latter? That's spot-on. 

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During his time at Davidson College, Curry and his friends rapped about a campus cafeteria in a parody set to the tune of Asher Roth's "I Love College." Much like Curry's magical NCAA tournament run foreshadowed his NBA success, his rapping on the decade-old video did the same for Monday's display. 

As far as NBA point guards with Oakland ties go, the rapping should only be left to Damian Lillard

Warriors counted on Mike Dunleavy Jr. in D'Angelo Russell trade, draft


Warriors counted on Mike Dunleavy Jr. in D'Angelo Russell trade, draft

Mention the name Mike Dunleavy Jr. to a Warriors fan, and you're likely to get a sour face in response. The No. 3 overall pick of the 2002 NBA draft never lived up to his potential over four-plus seasons in Golden State, and his seemingly relaxed disposition on the court didn't endear him any further. He was quite a talent drop-off from the first two picks of that draft -- Yao Ming and Jay Williams -- and he was selected six picks ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire, among others.

In fact, arguably the most helpful thing he ever did for the Warriors was be involved in the trade that brought Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington over from Indiana.

Time heals all wounds, though, and Dunleavy recently was involved in an important Warriors trade once again.

Dunleavy is back with Golden State, having rejoined the franchise as a pro scout last season. But as The Athletic's Anthony Slater reported Tuesday, it was his involvement in the sign-and-trade for D'Angelo Russell on July 1 that had plenty to do with his elevation to his current position of assistant general manager.

On the night of June 30, Dunleavy sat in a Manhattan hotel room with Warriors GM Bob Myers, trying to figure out how Golden State would proceed after learning that Kevin Durant was taking his talents to Brooklyn.

"Bob knew before everybody else, so that gave us a little bit more time to figure out what’s next,” Dunleavy told Slater. “But once that 6 p.m. time slot hit, things started flying. There was so much real-time action, intel collecting."

Having been based in New York for his scouting duties, Dunleavy got plenty of exposure to Russell during his time with the Nets, which aided in the Warriors' assessment of the dynamic guard.

"I didn’t see D’Angelo Russell play live 10, 20 times (like Mike),” Myers said. “There’s never been more information available, whether it’s analytics, your ability to watch tape, see games, dig into numbers. But I don’t think any of it is a substitute for actually going to a game in person, talking to coaches and watching the whole day develop, from when the player gets there to warm up, the stuff fans don’t see, interacting on a closer level, how they act when they get subbed out, how they react to winning and losing."

While Myers is at the head of the Warriors' basketball operations department, he encourages a collaborative decision-making process, and when it came time to decide on Russell, Dunleavy's familiarity was utilized.

"When we were faced with that short window of time, we certainly asked him,” Myers revealed. “He gave a rundown of where he thought he improved, his strengths, potential weaknesses, fit, all that."

The rest, as they say, is history.

With input from Dunleavy, Golden State made the gutsy decision to complete the sign-and-trade for Russell, which required the Warriors to depart with Andre Iguodala and multiple draft picks. The frantic events of the opening hours of free agency actually served to cement Dunleavy's interest in that kind of work, rather than deter it.

"I kind of got addicted to it," Dunleavy admitted.

Over the course of last season, Dunleavy grew more involved in the draft process. He attended several Villanova games, where he studied Golden State's second-round pick Eric Paschall, and was present for the entirety of the Big Ten Tournament, where he saw Warriors' first-round pick Jordan Poole play three times. Dunleavy then joined the rest of the front office in Oakland for the remainder of the pre-draft process, including the evaluation of prospect workouts.

Given who the Warriors ultimately selected in the draft, it's evident Golden State liked what Dunleavy had to say about both Poole and Paschall. Then, after he had further proven his value during the madness of the opening hours of free agency, Myers quickly offered Dunleavy his new elevated role.

"I’m not so arrogant to think I know more than he knows about an NBA offense," Myers conceded. "So I’m just positing questions to him. He takes a deeper look -- kind of like Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston) -- just a brilliant basketball mind. It kind of comes naturally."

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Dunleavy's first go-around with the Warriors was rocky, to say the least. But if Russell proves to be a good acquisition and the draft picks pan out, the second one will be a lot smoother.